“Stay awake and be ready!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, 32nd Sunday, November 12, 2017
For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
The bartender said, “No more, Mike. Go home and sleep it off.” Mike left the bar on wobbly legs for a short-cut home through the cemetery. When he fell into an open grave and could not pull himself out, he figured that, come morning, someone would be there to help. So he lay down and fell asleep. The morning sun awakened him, and he couldn’t remember last night, but as he stood up, his head was above ground, and he saw all those grave stones. He thought for a moment, and exclaimed: “Glory, glory, Halleluia! It’s Resurrection Day and I’m the first one up!”
The Church invites us to pray for the dead during the month of November. Praying for the dead seems to be a Catholic thing. We offer Masses for loved ones even many years after their death. It is a way to remember them, but we want to make sure, just in case, that they get to Heaven. Even in the Old Testament, in the Second Book of Maccabees, we read how a collection was taken up and sent to the Temple in Jerusalem so that sacrifices could be offered for the soldiers who died in battle. “It was a holy and pious thought … to make atonement for their dead that they might be freed from their sin” (2 Mac Ch. 12).
Historians say that the Christian belief in life after death was motivation for establishing cemeteries to bury the faithful in sacred ground to await their resurrection when the Lord comes again. If we are concerned about a respectful place for their bodies, how much deeper should be our concern that their souls will be with God in Heaven.
Jesus makes it very clear that we will be called to judgment, and that SOME will be invited into the Kingdom of Heaven. While on the Cross, He promised the “Good” Thief: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”
Our Church teaches that while some people merit entrance into Heaven right after death, others need a time of “purification.” That’s what we have come to call purgatory. The late Fr. Benedict Groeschel of EWTN fame often said that if and when he gets to Purgatory he will yell out a scream for all to hear, that even though he needs purification, at least he is assured of eventual entrance into Heaven. I don’t know if anyone heard that scream. Do you?
Just how God redeems our prayers for the dead souls, I don’t know. But I’ve come to terms with my inability to figure out how God does things. Yet I believe He is all-powerful and “does things.”
I don’t envision Purgatory - whatever it may be – as God’s revenge. Just as accidents leave scars on our bodies, so does sin scar our higher senses, our intellect and will. Those senses need cleansing and purification to fully enjoy what it means to see God, to hear God, and to be happy in His presence. You don’t go to a dance with broken legs. You may need surgery or therapy before you can walk again – or dance. When your eyesight fails, you can’t enjoy a good movie without glasses. And being hearing-impaired, I know that you can’t always enjoy a symphony even with hearing aids. The tympani just aren’t loud enough, while that loud tuba sounds like an elephant who just sat on a giant thumb tack!
So our senses, soiled by sin, need some cleansing, some therapy. That’s how I think of Purgatory.
The Church says that by praying for souls, we can help with that cleansing. Once those souls get to Heaven, into God’s presence, they will pray for us. Now that sounds like a good deal!
So, when I die, you better pray for me. Offer Masses, too. Never mind donations to the SPCA.
Now, let us offer a fervent prayer for all the souls who are being cleansed in preparation for their entrance into Heaven. Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord….
“Remember to keep Holy the Lord’s Day”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, 31st Sunday, November 5, 2017
The Church’s Liturgical Year is ending. Of the 34 Sundays in “Ordinary Time,” this is the 31st. Then comes Advent; then Jesus’ birth at Christmas, followed by the feasts and celebrations which explain how and why He was born into our world.
Some Scripture readings of these weeks speak about the end-times and how we must be alert. For at a time we least expect, the Lord will return and we’d better be ready!
On this Sunday we accompany Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem during the last week of His life. The focus here is not on His passion and death, but on His last message, His final lesson. Jesus knew He had little time left, and so His final teaching, loud and clear, was about the worship of God.
Jesus cleaned out the Temple of sellers and buyers. “My Father’s house is a house of prayer,” he said. He criticized Temple priests and leaders for not faithfully preaching God’s message and that Temple worship had become less than holy. All too often it was a formality, done just to get it over with.
I take these words of Jesus very seriously. When He condemns the priests, I swallow hard. This is, after all, the Son of God speaking. What He sees is what really is! He warns us to shape up - or else!
So I wonder: What would Jesus say if He came into our chapel, our parish church? What would He see? (We believe He is there, right?) How would Jesus respond to our prayers? When we say “Lord, have mercy,” does it sound authentic? What about the “Glory to God in the highest?” How “glorious” is it? How much attention do we give to the responses? And to the Readings? It’s the Word of God, right? When we receive the Lord in Holy Communion, what are we thinking; what are we saying, and WHO do we believe that we have just “received?”
How do we recite the Rosary? I recall a priest telling a group that he could “say” the Rosary with them, but he could not “pray” it with them, because they sounded like auctioneers, yelling out words so quickly that it didn’t sound prayerful.
What about our prayers at home? Do our kids ever see Mom and Dad in prayer? Pope Paul VI often said that today people don’t listen to teachers, but they do notice when teachers “do” something.
The Third Commandment (not a suggestion) tells us to “keep holy the Lord’s Day.” Remember “servile work”? That’s what we were NOT supposed to do on Sundays. When was the last time you heard a priest preach on that? (Sorry, Jesus, I’m guilty of that one!) My Mom never did laundry on Sunday - it was servile work - even though the laundry room was free while many apartment neighbors were out on Sunday. So how do WE KEEP HOLY the Lord’s Day? What makes it different from all other days of the week? Pastors are advised to keep things short and not schedule devotions on Sundays because of soccer games, baseball, football, and so many other things people want to do on Sunday.
Yeah, I know life has changed, and we gotta get with it. But you know what? That’s exactly what Jesus confronted in Jerusalem, at that holy Temple, on the last days of His life. Yes, He saw how life has changed. And He made it quite clear that another change was in order. Or else!
And then they killed Him.
Well! If I would have been there…. But wait! I am HERE. And so is HE! What now?
Just give it some thought. Please!
November is a month to pray for our beloved dead. Some thoughts on that next week.
“Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord.
May they rest in peace. Amen.”
Let us give THANKS to the Lord,
for He is good!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, THANKSGIVING, 2017
This is the second-to-last Sunday in “Ordinary Time.” Next Sunday, the last, will be celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King. Using God’s words and The Word (Jesus) Himself, the Church invites us to do some thinking. This week’s Thanksgiving holiday gives us additional reasons to think and to thank.
Our First Reading, from the Book of Proverbs (Ch. 31), is an odd one. The writer gives thanks for a good wife! At least what he considers a “good wife.” He may be describing and praising his own wife, or dreaming of the wife he’d like to have. She is certainly a domesticated gal, keeps the house clean, the family clothed, the garden seeded and weeded. There is a deeper meaning here which has nothing to do with domestication. It hints that if EVERYONE in a family and in the city contributed fully to the family cause, life would be a charm. We believe the Sacred Scriptures are inspired by God, but the expressions reflect the experiences of very human beings. So if that’s what wives did in his town, that’s what he praised. God speaks through that. Maybe his wife was more the bow-and-arrow type and he was ducking another bloody hit….
In the Gospel (Mt 21) Jesus tells how everyone is given “talents,” and expected to develop and use them. Next Sunday’s Gospel features the final judgment and what happens when we use, or don’t use, what God has given us. You know the old saying, “you can’t take it with you.” I’ve been burying people for 50 years, and I’ve never seen a U-Haul attached to a hearse. God expects us to alleviate the needs of others with our ration of “talents.” We are grateful for our talents; others are grateful because we use them. That is God’s plan. That is also the deeper meaning of that description of a “good wife.”
At our Friary Thanksgiving dinners, we go around the table and every Friar mentions ONE thing he is thankful for. It strikes me that I mention something different every year. Not that I don’t remember what I said the last time, it’s just that there are so many things for which to be thankful.
This year I thank the Lord for placing me in the midst of my young brother-Friars. To have young friars think that what my generation of friars began is worth continuing is the best affirmation from God and the world for how we invested our talents.
So many other things to be thankful for: my family and friends; my Catholic faith; good health; living in this country; generous people; and the privilege of serving as a priest of Jesus Christ for almost 19,000 days (sounds more impressive than 52 years!).
Writing this weekly blog keeps me close to my good friends who are far away. What a blessing that is!
Are there concerns? Oh, yes, there are. I worry about the divisions in our beloved America. How have we allowed ourselves to become so angry? Why am I offering a daily Holy Hour to end terrorism and terrorist attacks when we are killing each other faster than terrorists can kill us?
One thing is clear: we who follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, have not completed our task. This is NOT how God wants it to be. Violence is not new. My Bible has more than 1500 pages, and a murder is reported on page 4. One brother killed another.
So there is work to be done. We need to remember that the Thanksgiving that is part of our national folklore occurred when natives and immigrants concluded that TOGETHER they were both better off than when they excluded and fought each other. That lesson needs to be re-told and re-learned.
So, thank your God, for He is good. Hug your family, for they are good. Enjoy your turkey, for it is good. Then go and be an Instrument of PEACE, for that is good. And because God wants it!
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, and PEACE be with you.
THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Two kids are looking at Jesus on the cross, and one says, “I wonder where Jesus died.” The other responds, “I think he died in Rhode Island.” “How do you know that,” the first one asks. “See, this little sign above Jesus’ head? It says ‘IN R I’.”
Ok, it’s corny! The sign on the cross identified the crime for which Jesus was executed: He claimed to be a king. It was in four languages, but the Roman (Latin) version read “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). King Herod was a puppet-king, complicit with the Emperor in Rome, but it was a capital crime to claim royal authority. For that “crime” Jesus was executed, and it was far from Rhode Island.
Oddly enough, Jesus never claimed to be a king. When people tried to acclaim Him king (to overthrow Roman domination) He conveniently disappeared. In John 18, Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king. Jesus says these are Pilate’s words, not His, and that “my kingdom is not of this world.”
The Hebrew Scriptures (O.T.) often refer to God as king. But Jewish history records very un-God-like kings. Even David, the darling shepherd-king, chosen by God in a most unique way, was a sinner, big time. His trifecta of crimes against God’s Law included coveting another man’s wife, adultery, and murdering her husband. To King David’s credit, he admitted his sin (“my sin is always before me,” Psalm 51) and did penance. Successor kings were violent warriors rather than gentle shepherds, and led the people away from God rather than to Him. Jesus wanted no part of that.
The Feast and concept of Christ the King as we know it today is of much later vintage. In 1925, as the Catholic countries of Europe had shed their Christian identities and culture, Pope Pius XI dedicated that Holy Year to “restoring all things in Christ.” He reminded Christian people that even as separation of church and state was becoming a fact in history, Jesus Christ remains the royal to whom we must be loyal. In the Pope’s view, Jesus’ authority remains and we must be faithful to Him, no matter what our political preferences.
That brings us to today’s Gospel. Matthew 25 describes the final judgment. We know it well: “whatever you did for the least brothers (sisters, too) of mine, you did for me.” Cool, huh?
I like to use that for funerals, especially if the deceased was a nice, kind person. BUT: READ CAREFULLY: “and all the NATIONS will be assembled before Him…” In other words, Jesus is not only judging individual persons, but entire nations and cultures. He has a right to do that because He came to establish a kingdom not just in the hereafter, but here.
My friends, we live in a historical moment when EVERYONE is showing their wounds. Everyone feels hurt and abused. White people feel as if they are at a political disadvantage. People of color feel discrimination. Minorities – of every kind – feel disrespected. Note all the women who in these last days have announced their abuses and abusers. And you know, everyone has a true story to tell and a real scar that needs healing.
And so we are all angry. Others are no longer the friendly competition, or the loyal opposition, but mortal enemies. Why feed or clothe them?
This might be time for Christ the King to return and re-explain. So, if He comes into YOUR zip code, will He be crucified (or shot), or enthroned?
What do YOU think? Whatever we feel, think, say or do to “the least,” Jesus says we are doing to Him.
Hey, I didn’t say it. He did! Is Jesus Christ our KING? Or just another Elmo-kind-of-guy!
Is that a prayer: “and crown thy good with brotherhood” when we sing “God Bless America”?
LONG LIVE THE KING! PEACE!
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Fr. Alex’s Corner, November 26, 2017